Transparency in Covid-19 pandemic vaccination is vital  

Friday March 05 2021
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Cissy N Kagaba

By Cissy Kagaba

On March 2, the Minister of Health shared a statement with the media and the public announcing a number of activities around the mass immunisation of Ugandans and foreigners aged 18 years and above against the deadly Covid-19. 

We applaud the government upon this achievement and appreciate the Ministry of Health for staying the course and for sharing an elaborate plan of how the vaccines will be distributed, with whom, when and how, among other concerns. 

The Health Minister said Uganda would receive starting on March 5 some 864,000 doses of the promised 3,552,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine from the COVAX facility, an initiative of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and GAVI to provide vaccines to the world poorest nations. Throughout 2021, Uganda will receive some 17,872,037 doses from COVAX. 

Earlier, Uganda had placed orders for some 18 million doses to the tune of $162,801,475, again, from AstraZeneca/Oxford, of which 400,000 should be arriving in mid-March 2021. In all, these vaccines should be enough to inoculate 49.6% of the population twice with an eight-to-twelve-week interval between the first and the second doses. 

However, a few things stick out  and if these are not adequately answered, we are likely to cause a stampede and the corruption that comes with these, as has been the case in the past.
 
According to the plan, the first people to get the inoculation in Phase I will be health workers, security personnel, teachers, persons aged over 50 years and then persons between 18 and 50 years, but with underlying health conditions. 

Other emerging high risk and priority essential groups will include airline staff, media, prisoners, tour operators and guides, bankers, immigration officers, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority employees, humanitarian workers and others to be identified.

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 There is need to be cautious of some politicians as seen in some countries. Politicians have jumped the queue to get inoculated even earlier than frontline health workers.  

Experience during the vaccinations to protect Ugandans against meningitis in the mid-1990s were marred by irregularities because health workers charged with the vaccination process instead vaccinated their families at the expense of those targeted. 

During the mass vaccination against hepatitis B in eastern and northern Uganda, vaccines first went to the politically exposed and family members of health workers, which was not the intended purpose. 

The two incidents cited happened before the impunity among the political elite got to the levels at which they are today. What guarantees do we have that this is not going to happen during the vaccinations against Covid-19? 

The supply of vaccines has been a headache to the West where some suppliers, including AstraZeneca/Oxford had a number of concerns raised, especially by the European Union over supply timelines. The Ministry of Health has not stated if there are contingencies to cover this eventuality should it happen. 

The Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI) is a national body charged with the immunsation of children and women of child-bearing age.

The body also conducts routine immunisations, supplemental immunisations, accelerated routine immunisation and surveillance and outbreak response under which Covid-19 would ideally fall.

However,  plans are underway to train individuals to handle the Covid-19 vaccination that will be administered on the upper left shoulder, much like what is already being done by UNEPI. 

Instead of creating parallel structures that did not get the country far in the management of Covid-19 in 2020, we are repeating the same mistake by not empowering agencies already in place, but creating parallel structures that will be shrouded in controversy, opaqueness and corruption as was experienced in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda. 

Ms Kagaba is the executive director Anti-Corruption 
Coalition Uganda. kagabac@accu.or.ug

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